Student says MSU discouraged her from reporting rape by basketball players

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Bailey Kowalski, 22, who claims the athletes sexually assaulted her in April 2015, sued MSU last year in U.S. District Court in Lansing, as a "Jane Doe" and went public in an interview with the Times published Wednesday.

A Michigan State student who is suing the university in federal court for allegedly violating her rights under Title IX told the New York Times she was raped by three basketball players four years ago, and that school officials discouraged her from reporting the assault.

Bailey Kowalski, 22, who claims the athletes sexually assaulted her in April 2015, sued MSU last year in U.S. District Court in Lansing, as a "Jane Doe" and went public in an interview with the Times published Wednesday.

The lawsuit claims the assault occurred while Kowalski, then 18, was in her first year at MSU, pursuing her dream of becoming a sports journalist.

On the morning of April 12, 2015, most of the MSU basketball team arrived at Harper's Bar after the team had returned to East Lansing earlier in the week after being eliminated from the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament by Duke University.

Kowalski was approached by members of the basketball team, who purchased her drinks and invited her back to an apartment party, according to the lawsuit. 

When they arrived at the off-campus apartment, there was no party and Kowalski had a "hard time holding on to her glass even though she had not had a lot to drink," according to the lawsuit.

At that point, three student athletes took turns raping her in a bedroom, according to the lawsuit. 

Kowalski's lawyers claim that in her attempt to report it to the university, she was told by MSU Counseling Center staff that cases with "guys with big names" are common and the best thing to do was to "just get yourself better."

The lawsuit further states that Kowalski was told by MSUCC staff that "if you pursue this, you are going to be swimming with some really big fish."

An MSU spokeswoman declined Wednesday to comment directly on the lawsuit or the Times report.

"The university takes sexual assault and Title IX situations very seriously and is dedicated to making sure every student receives fair treatment and support when they need it,” university spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said in an email to The Detroit News.

However, when the original suit was filed in April 2018, the university said the woman was treated appropriately by the school’s Counseling Center, and the school said it had found no evidence that she was discouraged from making a Title IX complaint or a complaint to police.

In a statement released at the time, MSU said the woman “never revealed the names of her alleged assailants nor, until she filed her lawsuit, did she publicly assert that an assault had occurred.”

Kowalski plans to hold a news conference in East Lansing on Thursday, the fourth anniversary of the incident. A month later, she will graduate from Michigan State, the Times reported.

Her lawyer, Karen Truszkowski, said Kowalski's Title IX investigation, initiated by the university last June, is dragging on.

"Bailey graduates this May and so she has been dealing with this for her entire college career," Truszkowski told The News. "The Title IX case is still ongoing. Her case is extremely important in breaking down barriers victims have had with a very powerful athletic department whose actions seem to reflect that revenue-generating athletes are more important and are afforded greater privileges than their non-athlete counterparts. They have made that a clear distinction."

Kowalski is declining to name the men she says raped her, but said all were members of the 2014-15 Spartan team, she said in the Times report.

The lawsuit claims she did not file a police report after being discouraged by MSU staff, but is considering doing so.

“I don’t want any other girl who has gone through this or who God forbid may have to go through something like this to feel for one second that they should be too afraid to come out and do something,” Kowalski told the Times.

Kowalski's accusations against Michigan State come in the wake of the Larry Nassar child predator scandal, in which the sports doctor assaulted victims over 20 years. A Detroit News investigation found that 14 staff members at MSU were informed of allegations of misconduct by Nassar over two decades before his arrest, and the university faces lawsuits filed by more than 250 victims.

Her suit also comes after three ex-MSU football players pleaded guilty last year to a reduced, archaic charge of seducing an unmarried woman and avoided jail time in an alleged sex assault reported in January 2017.

Truszkowski represented the victim involved in the case against ex-football players Josh King, Donnie Corley and Demetric Vance.

In April 2017, football player Auston Robertson was kicked off the team after being charged with forcing a woman to have sex with him in his apartment.
Twitter: @SarahRahal_